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The Anti-Refugee Bill doubles down on damaging Windrush and 'hostile environment' approaches

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake writes for Now Then about the Nationalities and Borders Bill, through which "the Government is doubling down on the approach that led to the Windrush scandal."

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Thomas Kelley (Unsplash)

The Nationalities and Borders Bill, or Anti-Refugee Bill, which returned to Parliament this week, is a dangerous piece of legislation, representing the biggest attack on refugee protection that we've ever seen and offering nothing but punishment to people seeking sanctuary.

But not only does the Bill present a very real attack on our international legal obligations to those fleeing war and violence – it also doubles down on our ‘hostile environment’ at home.

To its shame, the Government is bringing forward this Bill in the long shadow of the Windrush scandal, a scandal which resulted in hundreds of Black British people being detained, denied their rights or deported.

That racist scandal – and it’s important we call it for what it is: racism – was a direct consequence of the Government’s hostile environment policy, a policy explicitly designed to discourage people from coming here and to make life harder for anyone who does.

No one should need papers to prove who they are, but that scandal has shown us how easily a hostile state can strip away citizenship rights without them.

This week the Government opposed proposals to give people a physical piece of evidence to prove their settled status, despite clear signs that the so-called ‘view and prove’ approach, where people can access their immigration status online, isn’t working.

For many, in my constituency and across the country, accessing the web portal is exclusionary, overly complicated and the webpage itself is vulnerable to breaking down. Physical proof of status would offer security to those who are worried that their rights won’t be respected. It would make life easier for people with settled status and for service providers.

Not only does this Bill repeat the administrative road to Windrush, it repeats the same toxic and divisive political approach.

The proposals on stateless children are chilling and will create even greater barriers for UK-born children to obtain British citizenship: “Stateless children in the UK – meaning those with no nationality - will not be entitled to British nationality unless the Home Secretary is satisfied that the child is unable to acquire another nationality.”

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Olivia Blake MP speaks at the Justice for Simba rally in Sheffield, 2021.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May once said that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” As an internationalist, I was shocked by that sentiment. But the proposals in this Bill send an even worse message to children and young people: If you are a 'citizen of nowhere,' we’d prefer you to be a citizen of anywhere but here. That is an awful thing to say to any child – let alone someone who has spent their whole life in the UK.

The Bill will also make it easier to strip certain groups of people of their citizenship. This power to deprive dual nationality or naturalised citizens of their citizenship is already the source of inequality in the UK, because it effectively creates two tiers of people – one whose rights cannot be taken from them in any case, and another whose rights are subject to the view of the Home Secretary.

You only need to look at who deprivation orders are used against to see that the inequality in that two-tier system is highly racialised. During the debate this week, a Tory MP started talking about terrorists, in reference to my colleague Bell Ribeiro Addy’s speech about extortionate child citizenship fees for those born in the UK. Equating children to terrorists is the hostile environment in action.

The proposals in the Nationalities and Borders Bill are set to make the process of deprivation even easier and play to some very ugly opinions about who belongs in the UK and who doesn’t. The Government's job should be to support the most vulnerable people in our society by standing up to those opinions – not to fuel or pander to them.

Rather than learn the lessons of Windrush, the Government is doubling down on the approach that led to the scandal – an approach which, at its core, relies on racist stereotypes about not only who comes here, but who belongs.

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